October 15, 2022

Adopt Don't Shop

Looking to add a furry family member? Learn the difference between adoption and a visiting a breeder.

A sad looking black kitten in a cage at an animal shelter

COVID-19 has inspired dramatic fluctuations in pet shelters. In spite of the increase in demand, there are still plenty of animals who need homes. And as economic woes persist, there is reason to worry that a new wave of animals who need to be rehomed will arrive at your local shelter. 

The sad fact is that there are still millions of friendly, perfectly well-adjusted dogs and cats euthanized every year. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about the health of animals from shelters versus breeders, talk with a vet professional to understand more. 

Common Health Issues Among Shelter Animals 

Even while advocating for shelter adoption, it is important to know about common issues among pet rescues. The good news is that most of these issues are easily resolved: One study showed that around half of the animals in their shelter pet sample had a health issue, but most of those were resolved within 12 months. 

Reputable shelters take plenty of precautions with their animals, but there are a couple of illnesses that are definitely prevalent among shelter animals.

  • Shelter cats are especially prone to upper respiratory infections. Symptoms may present as ulcers in the mouth, as well as a reluctance to eat and extreme lethargy. 
  • Rescue dogs can also have respiratory issues, and are also prone to gastrointestinal parasites. 

All of these conditions are highly treatable, and will most likely resolve once the animal has a new, clean home away from other animals. 

New adopters will get a full assessment of a potential pet’s health, as well as temperament. During intake, dogs get an assessment called SAFER — Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming. This is a scientifically backed assessment that allows shelters to identify the animals best suited for adoption. You can also rely on shelters to give you an honest assessment of a cat’s temperament — after all, the last thing they want is for an animal to be returned. 

Common Health Issues Among Pets from Breeders 

Some people hear the word “mutt” and assume they must have less favorable attributes than purebred dogs. This couldn’t be further from the truth — as you’re probably well aware, “Purebred” doesn’t actually mean healthy. In fact, after years of inbreeding, many purebred dogs are prone to genetic problems. come from bad breeders are prone to debilitating hereditary illnesses, which in some cases can even cut the pet’s life short

It’s important to know about the inhumane practices of some breeders who keep animals in filthy, cramped conditions in order to maximize their profits. And inhumane breeders don’t just affect their animals’ physical health. Animals can develop terrible mental problems at mills and pet stores, partly because of the dirty surroundings, and also because of the developmental difficulties that come from being separated early from a parent. 

Purebred Problems 

Our love of certain breeds has led to the perpetuation of a host of hereditary problems. Unfortunately, the top three dog breeds (as of 2019) are all especially likely to develop certain ailments. 

Labrador Retriever 

Labrador retrievers are prone to elbow problems and obesity. Studies suggest that the elbow issues are not due to inbreeding, and that it’s just a common problem among larger breeds.

German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs)

GSDs carry a gene for hereditary disease known as German Shepherd Dog Pyoderma, which is a type of bacterial infection that causes deep lesions under the skin. Responsible breeders make sure not to breed dogs who present with this condition, but it’s still quite common. 

GSDs are also known for developing hip dysplasia, although the prevalence has decreased thanks to careful breeding.  

Older GSDs are known for developing degenerative myelopathy, a fatal illness that affects the spinal cord and can cause paralysis in the hind legs. 

Golden Retriever 

Sadly, around half of golden retrievers die of cancer. Researchers are looking into how to get rid of the cancer-causing genes, but at this point, it’s a major cause for concern.

Hypothyroidism is a common issue among golden retrievers, affecting between 1 in 150 to 1 in 500. It can cause metabolic problems as well as heart issues. 

Brachycephalic Breeds

French bulldogs and pugs are the next most-popular breeds on the “Most Popular Dog Breeds” list, and both brachycephalic breeds, which refers to dogs with shortened muzzles and relatively flat faces. These breeds have a laundry list of problems, including their respiratory issues, which are fairly obvious to anyone who has ever been in the same room as a pug. 

Their protruding eyeballs and skin folds also make skin infections and eye injuries especially common among these breeds. 

How to Find an Ethical Breeder

If you have your heart set on a certain breed, here’s how to look for a responsible breeder. 

These are a few key points to keep in mind: 

  • Do not buy kittens puppies that are being shipped from another state. Dogs shipped across state lines are more likely to pick up illnesses, and are often shipped in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. 
  • No one can deny the pull of a tiny puppy or kitten, but clients should be warned away from any seller who will give up a puppy or a kitten who is fewer than six weeks old. 
  • Puppies and kittens kept in small crates in pet stores often come from unethical breeders. Make sure to visit the breeder’s actual location. 
  • Good breeders only sell to buyers they’ve met in person. 
  • Breeders with healthy animals will offer copies of veterinary certificates and can provide information about an animal’s parents. 

Make Sure You Are Ready 

Trying a short-term commitment can help you determine if you’re ready for a puppy. Fostering a puppy or a kitten (or an adult animal!) is a great first step before making the leap to full-blown pet ownership. Fostering is a big win-win: You get to experience what pet ownership feels like, a local shelter gets a little relief, and an animal gets to have some undivided attention. 

People who love dogs and cats enough to want one probably also love dogs and cats enough to not support inhumane breeders. Make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision and bring home a healthy, happy pet — to a home that’s ready to give them a fantastic quality of life.